In late 1993 we were asked to write a column for the official paper for the diocese of Gary, Indiana. This was one of several ways the newspaper planned to enlarge and improve their editorial content. The managing editor, Brian Olszewski, wanted us to write from our perspectives as married partners, parents, lay ministers, and contemporary African American Catholics. From a practical approach, our column being a regular feature in their publication would provide it a racially diverse, family oriented presence. An article was to be issued every two weeks via FAX to the office of The Northwest Indiana Catholic in Merrillville, Indiana.
In each column we tried to somehow address the perennial question, “Where is God?” Writing the column has given us the opportunity to observe and reflect on God’s presence in our lives and in the world around us. We wrote each article in our voice as a married couple, parents, and a ministry team.
The positive feedback from the Gary Diocese encouraged us to reach out to other dioceses through self-syndication. Under the name of “Family Reflections” our column regularly appeared in several diocesan newspapers, an African American Catholic monthly newsletter, two local parish publications, and a select readership on the Internet. Rumor has it that the column appeared in other publications without our authorization. While we hoped to properly expand our syndication, such “bootlegging” didn’t overly concern us. The added exposure benefited our ministry and increased our name recognition for speaking engagements. Our goal was to expand the number of publishers of Family Reflections to as many as twenty Catholic newspapers in major dioceses.
Presented here is a compilation of the articles from 1994 to 2000. We think of it as a theology of the family. It is theology in the sense that the articles denote the many and varied ways God works in the ordinary and not-so-ordinary events of family life. In our experiences as a married couple, as parents, as members of extended families, and as lay-ministers working with families, we see clear evidence of God’s interaction with humanity through family relationships, and in the predicaments those relationships place family members.
The U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter Follow the Way of Love says, “A family is holy not because it is perfect, but because God’s grace is at work in it, helping it to set out anew every day on the way to love.” The bishops further state, “All families are holy in and of themselves. Household life is holy because God is just as present in our home as at Church. We are holy as a family because we are a sign to one another of God’s love and creation. We can grow in holiness as a family when we intentionally seek God’s gracious presence in our lives and see ourselves as the domestic church, the Church of the Home.”1
We take the bishops’ message to heart. The “domestic church” and the intrinsic holiness of the family are foundations to the column. We search for God in family life. The column is simply our documentation of our reflections on God’s presence in our family setting.
We have been inspired by the New Testament writers who opened themselves to the Spirit and documented what they had seen and heard for the benefit of the faithful. Among those writings we cite from 1 John chapter 1: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from God and proclaim to you, that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as God himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and God’s word is not in us. (1 John 1:1-10)”
The writings in this volume are in many ways “true confessions” of the flawed nature of families. Readily we recognize our own family as a prime object of our observations. We draw upon the challenges we face as a family, and we dare to expose our flaws to the readers. We can be so candid about our private lives because we recognize that God loves us no less for our imperfections. For it is in our imperfections that we find ourselves leaning on the everlasting arms of God. Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, talks about how God uses our weaknesses to reach us. “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)”
Daring to place ourselves, our families and friendships as models of faith may appear boastful. However, we know (and God knows) our weaknesses. It has not been our intention to boast; to the contrary, we reveal our weaknesses with as much honesty as we can muster. If a reader finds an article boastful, we are content to say that our boasting is in the Lord who is at the center of our family life.
Problematic at times has been keeping the voice from which each article is written as ours as a couple. Though some articles are clearly about experiences of one of us, we try to present the perspective of us both. There have been instances, few though they have been, where keeping our collective voice was dispensed with for the sake of coherence and flow. In those instances, our collective voice was in the collaboration alone.
This nine-year project has helped us to develop as ministers and as parents. The feedback from readers has helped to shape our perspectives on God in the family. Stated below are e-mail comments from readers on the Internet and letters from eighth graders at St. John the Baptist School in Whiting, Indiana. The feedback has been very positive and affirming. It’s good to know that our reflections draw others into reflecting on God’s presence in their own family situations.